Notes from Napa

Sunday, May 08, 2011



    You’re never supposed to mention a lady’s age.  However  Maggie’s no lady.  She’s our mom.  Of course, “mom” was only one of the hats she wore.  She was the CEO (in abstentia) of Jim Pop’s business.  Long before women’s lib became the rage, he was wise enough to  never make a decision without consulting her.    When she wasn’t running the business, she was hitting backhands down the line; golf balls up the fairway; bidding one no trump with the girls; bringing the haughty down to earth with a well placed wise crack; running the Lazy J; raising three boys; and keeping a sharp eye on the clock for when those TV dinners were due to come out of the oven.
     When you live at the end of a mile dirt road, and the pipes freeze during  the frosts; the power goes off in  the storms; the cars get stuck in the mud; and the neighbors are calling because the cattle are continually breaking through the fences--the Ozzie and Harriet days of the 50’s back in the cozy Piedmont neighborhood where the most daunting task was getting a sitter so you could head out to the Berkeley tennis club--look pretty good.
     For over 40 years,  why she ever put up with Jim Pop leaving the city and moving to the Lazy J  is beyond me.  She gave up her friends and her life so he could live his dream and raise his boys in the country.
     Instead of shopping with her girlfriends and attending teas, she had to put up with the manure on the boots, the flies from the cattle and horses; the blood and feathers from slaughtering the chickens in the basement; the wail of the peacocks; the training and feeding of the dogs and cats; bottle feeding the lambs; nursing the animals at all hours of the night--even the fear of being trapped by raging fire.  It was called life in the country--where the closest people were a mile away and where the howl of the coyotes let you know you were never alone at night. 
     She had nothing to complain about though.  Not one of those rattle snakes she killed ever bit her, though they did on occasion get a dog or two.
     Through it all, she raised three boys by virtue of the simple “stink eye” (a raised eyebrow and a look that would have brought Atlas to his knees) and an occasional ahem, ahem--the feared clearing of the throat.   No matter what we were doing as kids, as soon as we heard that loud clearing of the throat EH AHEEEEM , we knew it was time to stand up for a lady, shake hands and look someone in the eye, excuse ourselves properly from the table,  pull out a chair for a lady or use our knife and fork properly. 
     We were told what was proper behavior.  Then a simple clearing of the throat reminded us of what to do.  I don’t know what the punishment was for failure to comply, but none of us wanted to find out. 
     She was one of those women who just commanded respect.
     She is a vanishing breed--but just like all the mothers I knew back then.  A woman who men respected and children loved and obeyed.
     She wasn’t our best friend.  We were to have friends our own age. She had a job to do.  Raise three boys to follow and honor the code.  We weren’t allowed to take ourselves seriously.  We were to follow the rules.  Do our chores.  Get our grades.  Be willing to compete.  And perform as adults.  Bringing boys to manhood and good citizenship was considered serious work once.  Asking a mother back then, “Do you work?”, would have been considered one of the dumbest queries of all time.    
    Maggie did it via sarcasm, teasing, humor and love.  At 91 she’s hardly a 90’s gal.  But when she and her pals sit down for that weekly game of bridge in heaven , I hope between deals, they’ll lift a class and toast themselves.  They done good.  Happy Mother’s day to a generation of women who did it right. 

Great article. I remember your Mom very, very well and she was always one of my favorites. She was truly one of the finest women I ever met.
She also had a wicked volley....
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